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Religious leaders blast program cuts

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Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2012 2:47 pm

Religious leaders from across Long Island on Monday took their frustration over Nassau County legislators’ inability to come to an agreement to provide funding for youth social service programs to a higher power.

More than 50 religious leaders, children and their family members who were effected by the county Legislature’s failure to approve $8 million to save the social-service agencies from losing their funding took part in a prayer vigil on the steps of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola.

“We are here to speak out for the children of our county whose lives and services are being held hostage to the political process presently going on in our Legislature,” said Rev. Hank Lay of the Parkway Community Church in Hicksville. “We are here to speak out. To speak out of our faith traditions. To speak in the name of God, who cares for children and who wishes us as a community to express that same care and concern.”

Last month, 40 youth social service programs and 13 mental health and chemical dependency coalitions from across the county lost their funding because Democrats and Republicans in the county Legislature failed to come to terms on an agreement to approve the borrowing of $41 million to pay for Nassau’s 2011 property tax refunds.

For any borrowing to be approved, the 19-member Legislature must support the proposal by a two-thirds majority.

With Republicans holding a 10-9 majority, that would mean at least three members of the Democratic caucus would have to cross party lines for any borrowing to be approved.

Democrats in the Legislature have previously indicated they would not support any further borrowing to pay for property tax refunds until an agreement is made with Republicans on the redistricting plans for county legislators.

“As I stand here this morning, I don’t stand to bash or criticize our elected officials, but I stand here in the capacity to hold them accountable for their oath that they have taken to be a voice for the people of Nassau County and every community that is represented here today,” Westbury Gospel Tabernacle Rev. Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust said. 

That legislators have still not come to an agreement to reinstate the county’s youth social service funding represents a failure on the highest level, Walthrust said.

“I would say that they have pleaded the Fifth Amendment, that they refuse to speak out,” she said, “out of fear or concern that they’re going to be held accountable.”

Funding for Nassau’s social service organizations was previously made available through revenue from the county’s red-light cameras.

“Our elected officials, those that we have put in charge and we have voted for, when you silenced this (funding), you have also silenced our children,” Calvary Baptist Church of Roosevelt Rev. Arthur Kindle Jr. said. “In silencing our children, you have also silenced us as leaders, as parents, as people that care for these children.”

In all, 12 religious leaders from across the county took part in Monday’s prayer vigil and later delivered a 3,500-signature petition to County Executive Edward Mangano, which asked for the restoration of the youth social services funding.

Sister Evelyn Lomoreux, of Elmont, said the county’s youth social service programs make “good sense for communities and its citizens, no matter what their station is in life.” 

“These experiences follow children throughout their lives and give them a chance to look back over their childhood with fond memories and happy times where they lived and grew up,” Lomoreaux said. “They become valuable teaching tools in humanity, love of neighbors, neighborhood pride and community participation.”

Protesters also later took to the county Legislature meeting where a group of eight teenagers wore blindfolds and tape over their mouths in a symbolic gesture to show that they were being held “hostage” without the restoration of their social service funds, said Rahsmia Zatar, the executive director of Hempstead-based Strong Youth Inc.

Although he did not take part in the protest at the county Legislature, Hicksville teenager Victor Santiago said he is “not okay” following last month’s social service agency funding cuts.

“I’m not okay with the fact that we are here today, still, in August asking the legislators to do what they were elected to do,”  Santiago said. “We are fighting for our children here. I’m one of the victims.”

Reach reporter John Santa by e-mail at jsanta@theislandnow.com or by phone at 516.307.1045 x203. Also follow us on Twitter @theislandnow1 and Facebook at facebook.com/theislandnow.

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